From Picasso to Kate Moss, how EasyArt is filling 22,000 billboards with British art

CEO Marc Lickfett on making art affordable to the masses

If on your walk to work this morning you happen to find the usual mortgage, mobile phone or car insurance adverts plastered over with a Bacon, a Hockney or a Hirst - don’t worry. An artist commune has not set up shop round the corner and decided to subtly announce its arrival.

The poster is most likely party of a nationwide campaign to turn the UK into this “world’s biggest art gallery” this summer.

This rather herculean task is being attempted by the brave souls behind the Art Everywhere campaign that has hired some 22,000 billboards, bus stands and just about everywhere else you can stick a poster on, and turned them all into makeshift canvases for the month.

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ArtEverywhere will have 20,000 billboards filled with your favourite artists this August. EasyArt is a big part of that.

Scores of great British arts, as voted by the public, are all being included in this bid to make our cities and our streets hubs of cultural excellence. No one individual can be thanked for this feat of bringing masterpieces to the commuting masses but EasyArt.com CEO Marc Lickfett comes pretty high on that list.

His firm EasyArt, is one of the UK’s biggest affordable online art and poster retailers, and is the proud e-commerce partner of the charity event. It is donating 100% of the profits from the sale of its Art Everywhere prints to the Art Fund, which helps museums and galleries buy and show great works of art to the public.

How it works: Log onto the Art Everywhere and see which works are being displayed where. Then, if you fancy buying them, you will be able to do so through Easy Art, either by visiting it directly or through the Art Everywhere site.

The company is still relatively small, turning over £6.5m this year but with sales booming it is on path to reach £10m turnover next year – an increase of 30%. But this is pocket change compared to what the Swedish-born and London-based Lickfett thinks he can accomplish.

With 50,000 prints in stock and the license to produce works from more than 1,500 artists and publishers - including Penguin Book, the Lowry and the Andy Warhol Foundation - Lickfett is trying to do for art, what iTunes did for music - allow more of us to get our hands on more of the things we want, more easily and crucially to pay at least something for it.

So to mark the opening of the “world’s biggest art gallery” we caught up with the aspiring Steve Jobs of art to talk about making art for the digital age.  

Q: What exactly does EasyArt.com do?

Our main goal is to digitalise art the way that music, film and so much else has adapted to online.

Music has had iTunes and iPods for instance and the drive to substitute the product. This has not happened in art. We want to do this but do it differently because we recognise that art is a unique medium.

We sell quality posters, prints and also lots of works by younger and less well-known artists. We also frame art so you can get the whole package.

Q: Where did the idea come from?

Art revenues have on the whole been declining since the late 1980s and sales didn’t pick up because there was no substitute and no new way to buy.

The artists were desperately looking to get out there as there is no mainstream channel but, at the same time, the big publishers that used to rely on big print funds were not able to do that as much which further reduced their ability to display up and coming artists.

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EasyArt sells iconic images and also lots of work from less-established artists

The art world basically became an industry that had caved in on itself and it could not go digital because the technology was not quite there.

Only now have we seen digital printing become good enough that we can say to people ‘hey buy the digital print from us, then print it yourself and sell it’.

That is very exciting and even the big names are interested in this. The Picassos and the Warhols have been very worried about the infringement of copyright, so the solution appeals to them too.

In the end, it is a good mix where the big names are interested in developing a whole new business model and the new artists – that either we find or that find us – are looking for a larger platform to showcase their work.

Q: But the art world is notoriously pretentious and, some say, purposefully closed off to mass audiences. How does your model challenge that stereotype?

Well absolutely. For a long time art was divided between the Ikea/Made in China stuff where the artists were getting a bad deal or were the Cork Street-type galleries where it was very cliquey and incredibly difficult to break into that circle.

These kinds of traditional galleries can be big open spaces with no price tags - going in there can feel overwhelming. Even many of the online art companies that are rising up at the moment are choosing to reproduce that elitist model.  

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EasyArt CEO Marc Lickfett wants to make art more accessible

For us though, the key is that we want everyone to get access to good quality prints and be able to look at nice images and fall in love with them. We need to break down the barriers and make people less afraid of art so that they will be happy to engage more.

It is very unpretentious but we are also committed to keeping the quality of our art and prints high.

Q: How are you getting the word out?

We’ve always done a lot of shows and networking but the big thing is our online presence. We have worked hard on our SEO so that when you type in something like Warhol prints into Google, we come up.

But we are now doing a lot more offline to let people know that we exist in the first place so they will think to Google in the first place. Art Everywhere is a big part of this.

The UK owns a lot of very spectacular art, much of which is open to the public for free. But it is easy to forget that it is out there and Art Everywhere is about getting the images in front of people and making them think about art again every day.

Q: And you are donating 100% of the profits?!

Yes. We are confident that in the long term we have huge potential for growth.

There are so many white walls out there that need to be filled so it is a matter of investing in awareness that there is so much amazing art out there.

We also built the Art Everywhere website and helped with a lot of the rights clearance for the posters.

We have done a lot but it is worth supporting – it is a really good cause and helps the museums and galleries as well as the artists.

Q: How are you helping young artists?

Growing the business means that we can continue to pay increased royalties to artists – including hundreds who are lesser well-known.

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EasyArt stocks lots of work by Marion McConaghie, an up and coming British artists.

We have also shaken up the old business model. Artists used to get 16% of wholesale sales, which is a smaller part of the total, but instead we give then 10% of retail. This means they can often earn three times as much.

Art has a big advantage to music because people need a print at the end of the day so there is always a concrete product to show for it.

Q: And what about you – do you have a tech or an artistic background?

I have always been very entrepreneurial. I started my first dotcom company - a web hosting company - back in 1998/1999. Things were very different then, and we had a quite boring product dealing with servers and email and things like that, but I got the online bug and promised myself that I would only work with exciting products from then on.

So I worked with cars for a while and in 2003 a friend told me about art online.

It all began because we noticed that people have art on their walls all over the world, but very few people know where to go to buy nice art - not just cheap posters but properly produced, quality art. I’ve been doing that ever since, first in a Swedish company and then at EasyArt when the two firms merged in 2008.

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